arthur+martha worked with housebound, isolated older people at home to make “a necklace of stars” – an embroidered quilt with a poem border and a poetry/song soundtrack inspired by lullabies. Lullabies bring calm and comfort, but also tell insightful stories that pass onward human experience from generation to generation.
Artist Lois Blackburn led the quilt design and making, poet Philip Davenport led the creative writing, working with singer songwriter Matt Hill, who devised melodies, arrangements and further lyrics for the new lullabies. Lullabies are deceptively simple carriers of complex messages. They pave the road to sleep and the magic carpet of dreaming, but they bring danger too. “When the bough breaks the baby will fall…” An embroidered quilt was the project centerpiece, evoking childhood bedtime stories and song; safety, comfort, protection: a portal into dreaming.
Necklace of Stars was a project designed to reach out to isolated older people. But when the pandemic started at the same time the project launched, the whole thing was at risk of being cancelled. It took a few deep gulps to move the project from face-to-face workshops to working over the phones for over a year.
The Necklace of Stars theme of childhood lullabies, stories and the night sky was a great stimulus for some: “There is an aura off the starlight, it’s very powerful. It draws us to it, gives us peace and makes us feel our place… I’m exploring it. Opening my eyes to the starlight.” N, participant quote. But other people wanted a different kind of space. They needed to address what was going on in the world immediately around them and in their own heads, writing about the pandemic: “Stories come into my head. All the different ways people have reacted to this time of isolation and shielding…” J, participant quote
In summer 2021 Philip and Lois were invited to participate in an Arts Derbyshire case study about delivering poetry workshops over the phone during Covid for Necklace of Stars — read here. We also worked with The Institute of Mental Health, who produced an independent report, pinpointing learning points and exploring the significance of this type of focussed work with a marginalised group. The aim is to achieve a new model of artistic practice with isolated older people. Loneliness is a huge problem for older people, The Campaign to End Loneliness states: Making art develops intimate connections […] it counters loneliness, brings togetherness/intimacy, builds confidence, enhances feelings of being valued.
For more examples of embroidered stars for the Necklace of Stars quilt, please visit:
I’m a path of light across your room,
up the wall, into the mirror and out again
through the open window, into the garden /
now a negative, shadow on shadow on black.
I’ll sit on a branch with the owl, show him the
hummocking mole, slip in and out between trees /
I’m a flitter, a flibbertigibbet, play hide-and-seek
with your certainties. On the twenty-eighth day I’ll be gone,
your world will turn black , you’ll walk into a door /
stub your toe in the darkness, and the owl will call,
a lunatic cry, from the asylum up on the hill,
night after night. But if you look out, look up /
you’ll see my new crescent, delicate, small
in the overall blackness, a fragile sign –
and you’ll know I’m on my way back /
Lorna Dexter 24.10.20